Recent Commonplace Entries


“History’s what people are trying to hide from you, not what they’re trying to show you. You search for it in the same way you sift through a landfill: for evidence of what people want to bury.” (Hilary Mantel in Giving Up the Ghost, quoted by Clair Willis in the New York Review of Books, May 14)

“A Georgetown University public health expert confidently tweeted that ‘germs don’t respect borders’. If this is true, it is true only in the sense that respecting borders is a human trait. Viruses don’t write novels or read Playboy either, or develop gambling addictions or say ‘for all intents and purposes’ until it gets on your nerves.

This viruses-don’t-respect-borders business is a perfect globalist slogan. It conveys absolutely nothing but aggressively enough so as to cow others into swallowing any inclination to stand up and disagree with you. It is what is called in zoology ‘display’.” (Christopher Caldwell in the Spectator US Edition, May)

“I am in any case a sucker for diaries, and not just because they so often have a freshness, vividness and authenticity that reflective memoirs so rarely achieve. Above all, I love their lack of hindsight, their record of events as perceived and interpreted at the time. If your interest in history is in why people acted the way they did, then you need to know, not what the facts were, but what they believed them to be, and this wonderful fallibility is at the heart of a good diary’s appeal.” (Antony Jay, on Yes, Minister, in London Review of Books, May 22, 1980)

Dr. Heinz Kiosk is Back!

“The plague will continue to crawl out of the woodwork – out of bedrooms, cellars, trunks, handkerchiefs and old papers – as long as human subjects do not question the cruelty and injustice of their social arrangements. We are all accountable for the ills of the world.” (Jacqueline Rose in the London Review of Books, May 7)

“Imbued as they were with Western culture, Americo-Liberians viewed Africans as primitive peoples in need of civilization and Christianity and saw themselves as the country’s rightful leaders.

In their search for a promised land of liberty, African-American settlers created a hierarchical society based on many of the same assumptions that justified white supremacy in the US. Race was no longer a dividing line, but class, religion and cultural heritage were. Many indigenous Africans, meanwhile, saw Americo-Liberians as freed slaves with no legitimate claim to leadership, but it was the Americo-Liberians who held power. For the republic’s first 100 years Africans were not allowed to vote unless they proved they had adopted Americo-Liberian culture.”  (Angela Thompsell, from The Foundations of Liberia, in History Today, April)

“In the course of World War II, while the British went short of much else, they nursed an almost unlimited wealth of dud military commanders.” (Max Hastings, in review of Antony Beevor’s Battle of Arnhem, in the New York Review of Books, May 28)

“The idea that Britain remained a first-class power was a fantasy that Churchill desperately tried to promote, even though he knew in his heart it was not the case  . . . One could argue that September 1944 was the origin of that disastrous cliché which lingers on even today about the country punching above its weight.” (Antony Beevor in The Battle of Arnhem, quoted by Max Hastings in New York Review of Books, May 28)

Backward Planning Is So Much Easier

“A newly installed interim marketing executive for Quibi, Ann Daly, once the president of DreamWorks Animation, has worked with Mr. Katzenberg since 1997. He said the change had come about because of a ‘difference of opinion about what the strategy would be going forward.’” (from NYT, May 12)

‘On one side of the road officialdom posted its injunctions to the patriotic to ‘save paper’, ‘save fuel’, ‘save food’, ‘save money’, and ‘waste nothing’; on the other side of the road were celebrated the riotous orgies of waste which officialdom, in all countries, always brings; and along the hard road between marched the British nation, docile, unthinking, unquestioning, staunch, passive, bearing its burden with a coolie-type patience, forgiving everything because it understood nothing.” (from Douglas Reed’s All Our Tomorrows (1942), p 27)

“I sometimes think that if Hitler sends 50,000 parachutists to this country, with orders to report their landing-places by radio, he will get 50,000 radiograms reporting a landing at a place called ‘Gentlemen’; this was the only indication of my whereabouts I ever found.” (from Douglas Reed’s All Our Tomorrows (1942), p 37)

“At this moment, when Australia faces such a threat, a department of our Dominions Office, the branch of our Government which cherishes our relations with the great Dominions, has sent this telegram to the Australian Prime Minister’s Office in Canberra:

            At the moment the Empire team is batting on a sticky wicket, and the Axis fast bowlers have had some success. Our best bats are still to go in and the score will show that we can give as well as take punishment.

Now I know that this cricket talk is not just an obsession, as I thought, but an incurable form of infantile dementia, which grows worse with advancing years.” (from Douglas Reed’s 1942 All Our Tomorrows, p 210)

“When the man Hitler disappeared from Germany, about 1943 (in 1960 he was discovered in Argentina, and interest in him briefly revived because of  a series of articles about him in an American newspaper) there was a great hubbub of jubilation in this country, where the belief was held that the main aim of the war, ‘to put an end to Hitlerism’, was now achieved.” (from Douglas Reed’s 1942 All Our Tomorrows, p 320)


“She [my mother] knew it was her passport out of the working classes and away from the small colliery town of her childhood.  . . .  and my parents were now established in the professional middle classes.” (Margaret Drabble, in the TLS, May 8)

“The different electoral responses to these losses can be largely explained by two things. First, until well into the 1980s England had a significantly larger private sector and homeowning middle-class, concentrated in the south of the country away from its former industrial centres; second, and not unrelatedly, the grip of the upper classes on the English public sphere, which has given them almost complete control over a composite Anglo-British political culture shaped in their image.” (Rory Scothorne, in London Review of Books, May 21)

“M Staats is an anti-Brexit protestor and eco-activist. Protest is a way of life for such people, and at present they are frustrated. This is a boon to ordinary citizens, but a cause of nervous breakdown in the XR classes.” (Charles Moore in the Spectator, May 9)

‘Discretion is the better part of velour . . .’

“Velvet is always the answer – whatever the question.” (‘dandyish curator’ Stephen Calloway to female-to-male ‘drag king’ Holly James, from the TLS, May 8)

“Every Nazi has Jewish ancestors. Every white supremacist has Middle Eastern ancestors. Every racist has African, Indian, Chinese, native American, aboriginal Australian ancestors, as well as everyone else, and not just in the sense that humankind is an African species in deep prehistory, but at a minimum from classical times, and probably much more recently.” (Adam Rutherford, in How to Argue with a Racist, quoted by Barbara J. King in TLS review, May 8)

“She [Ysabel] said: ‘Because you are one of those conceited cads who think it’s mighty fine to be indifferent to people who like you but like to fancy yourself Christ by worrying yourself sick about people who don’t even know you are alive.’

Old Townleigh chuckled: ‘The girl has exactly described the Liberal Party!’” (from Michael Arlen’s Young Men in Love, p 114)

“Serle was that rarest of English politicians – neither a Welshman, an Irishman, a Scotsman, an American, Canadian, nor a Jew, but an Englishman. He knew the English people. Now the English, as opposed to other races, are commonly supposed – by the English –  to mistrust words, phrases. What an Englishman is supposed exactly to do with a word or a phrase, what the exact procedure of ‘mistrusting’ is, has never been clearly defined.” (from Michael Arlen’s Young Men in Love, pp 183-184)

“The loveliness of women! How strange it is that all men do not see it! How strange it is that some men avoid it! Science blinds them. Art misleads them. Philosophy lures them to false gods. Clubs make them fat, politics silly, commerce arrogant, golf bald, bleary and speechless  . . .” (from Michael Arlen’s Young Men in Love, p 218)

“After Stalin’s death, his henchman Vyacheslav Molotov condemned the new Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev for going to a banya with the Finnish president, as though bathing with a foreigner meant capitulation to the international bourgeoisie.” (Rachel Polonsky, in The New York Review of Books, June 11)

Oh, No It Hasn’t  . . .

“The profit motive has been implanted in our deepest history as a species, in our very DNA.” (Marilynne Robinson, in The New York Review of Books, June 11)

Oh, No It Isn’t  . . .

“Our greatest weakness as a species is our inability to see beyond a very short time frame.” (from letter by Naomi Rachel in The Atlantic, June)

“I fully support banning travel from Europe to prevent the spread of infectious disease. I just think it’s 528 years too late.” (Cherokee journalist Rebecca Nagle, quoted in The Atlantic, June)

“All peasants who were more or less comfortably off were labelled as ‘Kulaks’; all who employed hired labour, even during the short peaks of seasonal work; shopkeepers; religious workers; former ‘White’ officers; one-time members of the Tsarist police and gendarmerie; past Cossack Atamans (chieftains of Cossack villages); private owners of corn-mills, butter churns, threshers, sowers or steam engines; almost any family guilty of the crimes of eating and dressing decently and living in tasteful surroundings. And there were many more. Those who refused to become ‘collectivised’ automatically gave the authorities cause to proclaim them Kulaks, and this, in its turn, provided a means of extending the black list.” (from G. A. Tokaev’s Stalin Means War, pp 4-5)

“First, it should be emphasized that Stalin was never a really honest partner to Churchill and Roosevelt. He was a new kind of colleague – one with a stiletto hidden up his sleeve, and a mind alert to discern the moment when it would be safe to stab his Western confreres in the back. Never for a moment did he renounce his ambitious dream of creating a World Soviet Union. He wanted war, because he considered it would advance this project, and his constant hope was that the main combatants would exhaust themselves and each other without involving the U.S.S.R. to any extent which might be termed dangerous.” (from G. A. Tokaev’s Stalin Means War, p 71)

“The Party bosses always considered that they were threatened from somewhere. As far back as 1939. There had been a whole catalogue of cities which, in their eyes, had been imperilled by other centres – Odessa by Bucharest, Zhitomir by Lvov, Minsk by Warsaw, Vitebsk by Kozno, Pskov by Riga, Leningrad by Tallin and Vipuri. And, now that the war was over, and the Communist net had spread in choking coils across Eastern Europe, Sofia was menaced by Athens, Belgrade by Rome, Leipzig by Kassel, Schmerin by Hamburg, Stettin by Copenhagen, the Baltic States by Sweden, Viborg by Helsinki! If Paris became Russia’s, it would at once be threatened by London, and so on; safety would come only when the whole world belonged to the U.S.S.R.” (from G. A. Tokaev’s Stalin Means War, p 152)

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